February 2010
Billie Silvey
Canterbury Tales
Chaucer's World
Geoffrey Chaucer was the first major writer in English Literature—
mostly because he was the first author to write in the English
language.  During the Middle Ages, churchmen wrote in Latin, the
language of the church.  Other important writers wrote in French,
which had been the language of the court since William the
Conqueror invaded  England in 1066.  English was only spoken by
the illiterate lower class.

Chaucer was born in London in 1343 to a family of winemakers.  
He had an active public life, serving as a bureaucrat, soldier,
courtier and diplomat.  His many jobs exposed him to a variety of
people from all levels of English society.

During the
Hundred Years’ War, Chaucer was captured in the
Siege of Rheims.  King Edward III contributed to his ransom.  He
married Philippa de Roet, lady-in-waiting to the queen, and they
had four children.

King Edward granted him a pension as a yeoman.  He later became
an esquire.  But despite his career, Chaucer continued to write
throughout his life.  His first poem,
Book of the Duchesse, was
written on the death of Blanche, the wife of
John of Gaunt, a
powerful figure in Medieval England and a relative of Chaucer's
wife. The poem was written in couplets of two rhyming lines of eight
syllables each.

Sent as an emissary to Italy to deal with matters of trade, where he
was introduced to the poetry of Boccaccio and Boethius. Chaucer
translated Boethius’
Consolations of Philosophy into English
and borrowed from Italian style and forms.

When he became Controller of Customs for the Port of London, he
and Philippa were given a lease for life on the house above the gate
of Aldgate.  They lived there for the next 12 years.

Chaucer was sent to France as part of a peace delegation.  His time
in France and his contact with French literature inspired him to
The Romance of the Rose, a French courtly love poem.  
He also wrote
Troilus and Criseyde.

When Richard I became king, he confirmed Chaucer’s offices
and pensions, sending him to France to arrange a marriage between
Richard and the French king’s daughter.

The next 12-15 years were devoted to writing as Chaucer served
as justice of the peace and member of Parliament for Kent.  During
this time, he worked on his epic
Canterbury Tales, the story of a
group of pilgrims on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket at
Canterbury Cathedral.   During this time, Philippa died, and
Chaucer became clerk of the king’s works, organizing the kingâ
€™s building projects.

When he retired on a pension, he leased a house near Westminster
Abbey.  Upon his death in 1400, he was buried in the Abbey,  in
what was later known as the Poet’s Corner.
Other articles in this website include discussions of Canterbury
Tales, Chaucer's world and pilgrimage.  I'd love to hear your
reaction to any of them.  Just email me at

Next month's website will be about pirates!
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